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Oct12 Toby Mendez story
Oct12 Toby Mendez story
Frederick resident Toby Mendez remembers vividly the Orioles games he attended in the late 1970s. Then a teen, he recalls cheering as manager Earl Weaver emerged from the dugout of Memorial Stadium and watching excitedly anytime Eddie Murray came up to bat.
“You knew something extraordinary was going to happen in the clutch,” Mendez says.
Three decades later, those memories serve as inspiration for Mendez, an artist commissioned to create six larger-than-life bronze sculptures of Oriole hall-of-famers in celebration of the 20-year anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Though his work has adorned landmarks around the world (the U.S. Navy Memorial in DC and the Thurgood Marshall Memorial in Annapolis, among others) and honored sports legends from Boston to Miami, the Orioles pieces are especially near and dear to his heart.
“Most of the sports history I know is the Orioles,” he says during a tour of his Knoxville studio, located in his father's home in the quiet countryside about 15 miles from downtown Frederick. Here, Mendez spent the better part of his youth and carved his first sculpture out of stone the summer before high school. More sculptures followed and, by the age of 16, he'd decided on his career.
“My mother insisted that Dad and I build the studios and get the dust out of the house,” he says. The studio has grown over the years, and the sprawling space now showcases busts, medallions, and small-scale models that represent more than 25 years of the artist's work in bronze, terracotta, and cast stone.
Among the most striking pieces are the life-sized sculptures scattered throughout the studio like famous figures frozen in time. The painstaking detail of the work, which Mendez describes as “combining a classical approach with a contemporary eye for site design,” is apparent in the true-to-life facial expressions and even the wrinkles in the clothing.
The walls of the studio showcase the work of Mendez’s stepmother, Jonna Mendez, and father, Antonio Joseph Mendez, a painter with a unique story of his own. A former CIA operative who helped free six U.S. diplomats from Iran in the 1970s, the elder Mendez is the subject of a major motion picture, Argo, that will break this fall. (See “Imitation of Life” on page XX.)
In 2010, Mendez completed “The Teammates” sculpture for the Boston Red Sox, which attracted the attention of the Orioles.
“His local roots, combined with a clear understanding of how to capture individuals in iconic poses, drew us to Toby,” says Greg Bader, the Orioles’ director of communications.
The O’s sculptures—beginning with a June ceremony for Weaver and concluding with one for Brooks Robinson in September—were unveiled throughout this past baseball season.
The ceremonies mark the culmination of a process that began with research—lots of it, says Mendez.
He pored over hundreds of photographs of the players and then sculpted a two-foot version of each athlete before soliciting feedback from the franchise and players. They suggested tweaks like “raising their chin up, making more of a rotation with the torso,” says Mendez.
The artist then cast each clay figure in plaster, before each was scanned by laser and milled to produce a seven-foot figure made of high-density foam. Mendez carved detail into the foam and skimmed it with a paper-thin layer of clay to add back the details and texture of the original piece.
Finally, Mendez sent each sculpture to a foundry in Baltimore, where the pieces were cast into bronze.
In all, the labor was tedious and took a little over a year to complete. But the finished pieces will be cherished by generations of Orioles fans to come.
To learn more about Toby Mendez, visit www.tobymendezstudios.com.